LANDOVER -- A year ago, a .500 record after the first month of the season was a sign of improvement for the Washington Bullets. But with last night's loss to the New York Knicks, the league's surprise team at the start limps into December with a six-game losing streak.
There were signs of improvement for the Bullets, who were able to cut an 18-point second-half deficit to two early in the fourth quarter. But in the end, the Knicks simply had too many weapons in a 99-91 win before a sellout crowd of 18,756 at the USAir Arena.
Patrick Ewing scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, and Charles Oakley had 16 points as all five starters scored in double figures for the Knicks (7-4).
Chris Webber scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in his second straight strong effort, and Kevin Duckworth overcame a strained groin muscle with a 16-point, eight- rebound night for the Bullets (4-7). Mitchell Butler, Juwan Howard and Calbert Cheaney all came off the bench to score eight points that helped Washington into an uptempo running style during the comeback, but their effort was not enough.
"Obviously we got ourselves so far down," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "We had a bad stretch at the start of the second half, and I'd like not to fall behind like that."
That bad stretch turned a nine-point halftime deficit to 18 after Oakley hit two free throws with 3:49 left that gave the Knicks a 75-57 lead. That's when Butler and Webber checked into the game, and the Bullets were off and running.
First Butler converted a steal into a layup. Then he was fouled after posting up Hubert Davis, and hit two free throws. In all, the Bullets finished the last 2:30 with an 11-0 run, and had come to within 75-68 going into the final quarter.
"I think we showed a little something with the comeback," Lynam said. "And Butler helped."
The Bullets got to within 75-73 after two free throws by Butler just over a minute into the fourth, but the momentum was slowed when Webber caught an Anthony Mason elbow in the chin and -- after lying still on the floor for several minutes -- had to leave the game. New York began to gain control and, although the Bullets got to within 91-88 after a layup by Webber with 2:31 left, the Knicks' veterans came through in the end for the win.
Lynam did some experimenting last night, playing Rex Chapman alongside Cheaney in the backcourt during part of the second-half run. Chapman had practiced some at the point in practice on Monday.
"I was in there to just try to push it when I was at the point," Chapman said. "During that time, we were able to get some easy stops and came down and were able to convert."
That's the key to running the ball: defensive stops. And the Bullets didn't make enough of them in the fourth quarter, when the Knicks shot 57.8 percent (11 of 19) from the field.
"We want to run," Scott Skiles said. "But we just can't go out and say 'We're going to run tonight.' We have to stop them. We have to rebound."
Washington was outrebounded, 46-41, by the Knicks. And New York was the team that was better in transition, which helped the Knicks to a 40-24 edge in points in the paint.
While the Knicks are looking to run more this season, they still play solid defense. Over the last four games, the Knicks have limited opponents to 93.4 points an outing, showing they can still get the job done in a season when new rules are supposed to open up offense.
"They force you to be careless," Lynam said of New York's defense.
Despite the loss, Lynam saw some positives. Webber had his second strong game in a row, following Saturday's 22-point, 20-rebound performance. Butler, whose playing time has been sporadic, played nine quality minutes. And Cheaney, despite hitting just three of 11 shots, was aggressive offensively and had four assists.
"I think we were certainly more cohesive than we were the first night against Boston," Lynam said, referring to the debut of Webber and Howard. "The defense has been good. We're struggling at the other end."
"It bothered me," Duckworth said of his injury. "I missed some easy shots. There were times when I felt I should have been there to help [defensively], but I was a step off."
The loss was the fourth straight in a five-game homestand. The Bullets look to win the final game of the homestand on Friday against the Detroit Pistons.
"No one expected it to be this way, but we win as a team and lose as a team," Webber said. "We played a good team, and that's what happens. It's more embarrassing to us than the fans and the media. I just don't like to be embarrassed."
NOTES: Cheaney suffered a mild sprain to his right ankle during the fourth quarter, and had his foot in a bucket of ice after the game. His status is day to day. Anthony Tucker was back on the roster after a five-game stint on the injury list, but did not play. . . . The Knicks activated Doc Rivers and Anthony Bonner off the injured list prior to the game. Ronnie Grandison (tendinitis, left knee) and first-round pick and former Florida State football star Charlie Ward (sprained right wrist) were placed on the injured list.